For Nick Liberatore, working in hospitality is in the blood. His father, Italo, and his uncles John, Pino, and Dante, arrived in Baltimore from Argentina in 1974. And while Italo attended the University of Maryland, College Park to study electrical engineering, his uncles headed to Little Italy to work at Caesar’s Den, Da Mimmo, and Velleggia’s.
Over time, in true American Dream fashion, his uncles opened the first of their Liberatore’s restaurants in Eldersburg in 1988. More locations soon followed—from Timonium to Bel Air—and by 2004, Nick was working in the Owings Mills location. (There are now five Liberatore’s across three counties.)
“I fell in love with it. I loved how fast-paced it was,” recalls Liberatore. “I’d bus tables, dish-wash, and learn on the line.”
After graduating from the University of Delaware in 2011, Liberatore was tempted to go straight into the family business, instead choosing to work at two different Fleming’s Steakhouses, before becoming a partner at Lib’s Grill, Liberatore’s steakhouse and seafood sister concept with three locations, including Perry Hall, Maple Lawn, and Bel Air.
“I learned so much going from a corporate background to a family business,” says Liberatore, 33.
His biggest takeaway? “Our family puts family first. Although we work together, we’re going to see each other over Sunday dinners. Disagreements must be left at the door.”
What did you want to do with the menu?
We wanted to create a dining experience that was approachable yet sophisticated. The coolest thing about the restaurant is that you can seat a table with two little girls and their cleats from soccer practice while mom and dad get a nice Natty Boh sitting right next to people celebrating their 10-year wedding anniversary with a bottle of Caymus and rib-eye.
What should first-timers order?
We source our beef locally from Roseda Farm, so the sirloin and rib-eye are fantastic. If you’re grabbing a sandwich, I’m a fan of the chicken sandwich. It’s a piece of grilled chicken with apples, Brie, and house-made honey mustard. And our fresh-shucked oysters are awesome. They’re all from the Atlantic coast and we have our own Lib’s Grill oysters that are out of the Delaware Bay.
Is there anything that reflects your family’s South American roots on the menu?
My uncle Pino’s wife, Mariana, makes our house-made empanadas. She brings them to the restaurant, and we finish them in the fryer. They are delicious and have that South American touch. We have a new recipe for spring that’s porchetta and broccoli rabe.
Tell me about your corporate chef at Lib’s Grill.
At 24, I had the chance to build a menu with the chef Daniel Chaustit. He’s the Daniel of [the now-closed] Christopher Daniel in Cockeysville. He’s a level-headed chef, which is always hard to come by. He put a creative spin on a menu that remains approachable.
You became a new dad in December. Do you think your daughter, Penelope, will want to pursue hospitality?
I am already grooming her. She helped seat tables the other day. I was working and holding her, and we carried menus to the table and greeted guests—she’s practicing her hosting skills as we speak.